Managing discrimination

Having a transplant is transformative. After being unwell, you now have the chance to live life again to the fullest. You may feel ready to start socialising and commencing work.  As you recover, remember to take things slowly at first.  

Commencing work

Typically, recovery can take at least 6 weeks. After being away from your social life and work for an extended period, you may need to gradually get back to your former job, or look for a change in career/work arrangements to suit your health requirements.

The prospect of reengaging at the workplace can be daunting. Ensure you have a note from your transplant doctor/GP to explain your illness and recommend steps the organisation can take to help you ease into the workplace; e.g. the implementation of flexible hours.

Work with your manager as well as your physician to understand the conditions under which you can return to work, and have a dialogue with your employer about any concerns.

New work arrangements might include:

  • Temporary onsite work options such as reduced work hours
  • Working from home, where applicable
  • Limited responsibilities
  • Return-to-work transition programs to prepare you to resume full work duties

Monty Summers – Bone marrow recipient

Don’t be afraid to speak up and discuss apprehensions, and even ask for the odd day off if required. The more your employer understands your condition and how it affects you, the more beneficial it will be for you in the long run.

T

Temporary work

Request for temporary/part-time work to ease into the work environment

R

Records

Carry records like doctors’ certificates and recommendations

A

Assessment

Get assessed by your doctor for the level of physical activity you can resume

N

Negotiate

Negotiate for time off to attend appointments

S

Short hours

Request for short hours as a start

I

Infections

Stay away from infections. Carry hand sanitisers and ensure your work environment is clean

T

Transition

Enquire about transition programs as you prepare to resume work duties

Reviewing and updating your resume

Explaining a little about your circumstances will help employers understand the gaps in your resume. Although you are not obliged to declare your circumstances/health issues, it may help to script it out and practice what you choose to disclose.

There are many information sites that provide advice on writing resumes and offer templates. While listing skills, include skills you may have acquired while unwell and away from work. For example, they could be soft skills like managing your family or even organising everyone’s diary.

For information on a range of employment services and work available for job seekers visit:

“Since returning to work my management and HR Team have been outstanding, providing me with facilities within the business along with change-of-hours to accommodate my strength, and getting the best out of me just 6 months post-transplant. Flexible hours, time off for hospital visits and providing counselling services if needed – I couldn’t have asked for a better transition, even though it’s been hard at times. I am very grateful for their support” – Lisa Chaney, kidney recipient.

Disclosure to your new employer

You may like to maintain privacy and are under no legal obligation to disclose your circumstances to a new employer if your health issues do not impact your performance. Some of the reasons for non-disclosure may include:

  • You feel that no adjustments need to be made to your job now or in future
  • You are worried about discrimination, harassment, negative attitudes or being denied promotions

However, if your health condition changes and it starts affecting your job, you might decide to disclose your health situation to your employer because:

  • You might need to make some workplace adjustments like flexible arrangements
  • Your employer may need to consider the health and safety aspects of your work environment. For example, you may not be allowed to lift heavy weights until cleared by the transplant team
  • You want to ensure that equal opportunity policies, with commitment to non-discrimination, are applicable. Remember that a disability discrimination complaint cannot be lodged if you haven’t disclosed your condition

Click here for more on your rights as an employee with an illness.

“I feel I can do anything… I work part-time and have not felt the need to tell anyone about my transplant” – Michelle Madden, kidney recipient.

 

 

Get into the work habit

Voluntary work, whether helping at schools or a charity will help you adapt to a routine and is a great way to get work experience. Look for opportunities at places like Volunteering Australia, Probono Australia and Go Volunteer.

Networking may be one way to help you get a break. If you have contacts in the sector you’d like to work in, approach them for advice and put a word out to family and friends.

Interacting with colleagues after transplant

Going back to work and interacting with coworkers can be complicated. Your coworkers may have limited knowledge about transplantation; think that you’re still gravely ill or treat you like a fragile person.

Open discussions with coworkers would help educate them and put everyone at ease.

Types of unreasonable behaviour may include:

  • Being demoted without clear reason
  • Not being promoted to an earned position or being overlooked for a new position
  • Lack of flexibility around doctors’ appointments or tests

If you feel unfairly treated at work, talk to a healthcare worker or transplant unit. Do not let any ill-informed notions hold you back.

There are national and state laws on equal employment opportunity and anti-discrimination at the workplace that can protect you.

Socialising and meeting people

Double lung recipient Kate Willis with daughter Adeline.

While you were unwell, it might have been too hard to maintain social connections.

  • Before transplant, you may have felt anxious about the future, upcoming surgery and having to take time off work
  • Immediately after surgery, you may worry about your new organ working, coping with medications; experience frustration and feel like you have no control over what’s happening to you
  • After going home, you may worry about managing frequent hospital visits; feel disappointed if you don’t feel as energetic as you or your family anticipated
  • As you recover, you may experience anxiety about going back to work; your financial situation, or having a setback in your health (like an infection). You still feel tired but family and friends expect you to resume life and do everything you did before you were sick   

Little steps go a long way

When picking up a social life again, don’t put pressure on yourself or overdo it. Plan things to look forward to, and set easy goals like having a night out once a week.

Stay connected with friends, even if you’re not able to meet face-to-face right away, through Skype or social media.

When you feel up to it, you could try a new hobby, activity or even volunteering. However, make sure to stay away from crowded places like shopping malls and pubs, where the chances of picking up infections are high, for the first 3 months or until your transplant doctor advises.

The different emotions at various stages of your recovery can lead to feelings of isolation and stress. Take the time to look after yourself. Talk to your GP, a healthcare professional or a trusted friend about your feelings, or learn stress-management techniques like meditation, mindfulness or breathing exercises.

Check out Beyond Blue, headspace or health direct for more. If you continue to experience high levels of stress speak to your GP, or find a Psychologist Service by calling 1800 333 497.  

Transplant Australia has a large membership and provides great opportunities to socialise through sporting and social activities organised by each state. To find out more about what’s available in your state click here. Every two years Transplant Australia organises the Australian Transplant Games encouraging fitness and friendships with those in the transplant community. Meeting others who understand what it’s like to go through the unique experience of transplantation can be very positive for transplant recipients.

Acknowledgements

Transplant Australia gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the following experts in developing and reviewing this material:

Kelly Bowler

Carer Support Officer
Clinical Governance Unit
The Children’s Hospital at Westmead

Beena Sewlal

Area Renal Social Worker
Western Renal Service
WSLHD & NBMLHD